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Toward a Functional View of the p Factor in Psychopathology


Evidence indicates the existence of a superordinate factor of general psychopathology, which has been termed p. Among the issues raised by this discovery is whether this factor has substantive meaning or not. This article suggests a functional interpretation of the p factor, based in part on a family of dual process models, in which an associative system and a deliberative system compete for influence over action. The associative system is frequently said to be impulsively responsive to emotions. We hypothesize that this impulsive responsivity to emotion underlies the p factor. One benefit of this view is to use the same underlying process variable to account for both internalizing and externalizing vulnerabilities, as well as aspects of thought disorder. Evidence is reviewed linking impulsive reactivity to emotion to the p factor, and (separately) to internalizing, externalizing, and thought-disorder symptoms. Alternative interpretations are considered.

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